What are Rootball Hedging Plants?

Rootball vs Pot-grown Laurel

Whether you want Leylandii, Laurel, Thuja, Portugal Laurel or Griselinia for your hedge, whether you want them two feet high or ten feet, there is a very good chance your plants will come in a pot. This is after all how nearly all the plants we buy from garden centres are sold.

However, in winter you can buy hedging plants in a different form: rootball.

What are rootballs? Also known as ‘field grown’ or rootballed plants, these are plants that have been growing in a field for a few years. When it is time for them to be sold they are ‘lifted’. This means they are dug out from the ground when they are dormant with a ball of soil around the roots. The plant’s roots are covered with the soil and are then wrapped in a fabric called hessian or jute. This keeps the soil in place and hold it all together. It also makes a rough ball shape, hence the name rootball.

The main difference between rootball and potted plants is their availability. We sell rootball hedging from November up to late March, so it is specific to the winter period. To dig them from the field, the plants need to be dormant as they are in winter. If you dig up plants from a field when they are growing, the act of cutting off some of their roots as they are trying to take up water, means they are very unlikely to survive. Potted plants can be bought and planted at any time of year but can be limited in quantity and availability at times of peak demand.

The other difference is that some hedging plants are more suited to rootballing than others. Laurel, Portugal Laurel,  Thuja and Yew usually “take” well from rootballs but Leylandii, Griselinia and especially Photinia Red Robin can struggle. For this reason, we recommend planting Leylandii, Griselinia and Photinia as pot-grown plants, not rootballs. 

Laurel, Portugal Laurel, Thuja and Yew take well as rootballed plants. We pot up thousands of these from rootballs into pots every year. Once they have rooted into the compost and formed a root system in the pot, they are effectively pot-grown and can be planted at any time of year. It is unusual for us to lose one in a thousand from rootball so Laurel, Thuja and Portugal Laurel are very reliable as rootballs.

When planting a rootball, the hessian fabric on rootballed plants is biodegradable. This means you don’t have to unwrap the rootball when planting it. You can plant the entire rootball in the ground as it is.

Although rootball and potted hedging are planted the same way, there is more urgency in getting the rootball planted, because the roots are more likely to dry out in a rootball than in a pot. Also, the roots will start growing outwards through the hessian, and the hessian itself will begin to fall apart since it’s biodegradable. You can usually keep plants in pots for a few weeks before planting them as long as you water them if necessary (often every day in spring and summer) and keep them standing up so they don’t lie on their side.

Bare-root plants are similar to rootballed plants. They are dug from a field in the winter but, in this case, the soil is washed off the roots. This makes them easier to transport. However, they are less reliable than pot-grown or rootball so we do not recommend them except for native hedging plants such as Hawthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Blackthorn and Spindle or for trees that lose their leaves in winter.  We sell bare-root mixed native hedging at Greenshutters Garden Centre in Somerset but not online.

Posted Under: Hedging Blogs